Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Young Man & the Salad

esca corn salad fig. a: Esca Corn Salad in 2D

You might have heard of Dave Pasternack. He's the James Beard Foundation Award-winning chef of New York City's highly touted Esca. He's the legendary New York fisherman-chef who developed a reputation for hauling the fish he'd caught himself from Long Beach to his restaurant in Midtown on the Long Island Rail Road (!).* He's the chef who, when he's not serving his own catch (a distinction that makes Esca the only restaurant in New York that serves "year-round wild game that has been personally bagged by the chef," as Mark Singer put it in a New Yorker profile in 2005), deals with somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 suppliers to score the very finest seafood for his restaurant (by comparison, the overwhelming majority of New York restaurant deal with a single seafood wholesaler, and, well, you get what they pay for). He's also the chef who's credited with having kicked off the seafood crudo craze of the last decade.

So when someone profiles Pasternack's cookbook, a book called The Young Man & The Sea: Recipes & Crispy Fish Tales From Esca, you wouldn't expect them to offer up a vegetarian recipe, but that's exactly what we're going to do. After all, by Pasternack's own admission, "this is the single most requested item on the Esca menu in the summer and early fall," and it's definitely early fall. This recipe is a great example of Pasternack's extraordinary talents and his "unaffectedly refined" approach to cuisine. It's also a great way to use up the last of the season's fresh, local sweet corn before it disappears until next year. Plus, you get three great recipes for the price of one...

Esca Corn Salad

6 ears of corn, husked
1/4 cup walnuts
1/2 cup Rosemary Oil (recipe follows)
1/2 cup Braised Chanterelles (recipe follows)
3 tbsp unsalted butter
4 oz dry aged goat cheese or ricotta salata, grated using the small holes of a box grater
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
4 cups arugula, rinsed and dried

Preheat the oven to 300º F.

Prepare a charcoal fire.** Grill the corn over the fire until lightly charred, about 3 minutes. Cut off the narrow end of the cob. Hod the ear with one hand, the flat end resting on the cutting board, and cut the kernels from the cob. Place the kernels in a bowl. Repeat with each ear of corn. Set the kernels aside.

Place the walnuts in a baking tray and toast in the oven for 3 minutes, or until they begin to give off an aroma. Be very careful not to burn them, as the flavor will go bitter quickly. Remove from the oven and set aside.

In a large sauté pan, heat 2 tbsp of the Rosemary Oil. Slightly crush the toasted walnuts in your hand and add to the pan along with the Braised Mushrooms. Sauté for 1 minute. Add the corn kernels, stir to combine, and sauté for 3 minutes, until the corn is hot. Add the butter and 2 tbsp of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

Place the arugula leaves in a mixing bowl. Dress them with most of the Rosemary Oil and season with salt and pepper. To serve, spoon the corn mixture into center of four serving plates and sprinkle with half the remaining cheese (or spoon the corn mixture into the center of two serving plates, sprinkle with one-quarter of the remaining cheese, and plan on repeating the process, like we did). Top with the arugula and the rest of the cheese. Drizzle each plate with some of the remaining Rosemary Oil.

Serves 4, unless there's only 2 of you, and you're hungry, and the salad drives you so wild that you can't stop eating it until it's all gone.

Rosemary Oil

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 sprigs rosemary

Place the olive oil in a saucepan and add the rosemary. Heat over a low flame until the oil is war, but not hot. Set aside until the oil is cool. Strain and discard the rosemary sprigs.

Braised Mushrooms

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, minced
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup dry white wine
1 sprig thyme
freshly ground black pepper
1 pound mushrooms, such as black trumpets, morels, cultivated button mushrooms, or chanterelles, which, as indicated above, pair best with the corn salad

Trace the perimeter of a large straight-sided sauté pan on parchment paper and cut out the circle. This will serve as the pan's lid.

Heat the olive oil in the sauté pan over a medium flame until hot but not smoking. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the butter, wine, and thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer, then add the mushrooms. Toss, then cover with the circle of parchment paper.

Cook the mushrooms at a low simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. They should be very tender. Season with more salt and pepper as needed and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Note: this recipe makes much more than you need for the corn salad, so feel free to adjust it accordingly, but I'm sure you can find another use for the remaining Braised Mushrooms--they're unbelievably delicious.

[recipes adapted only slightly from David Pasternack and Ed Levine's The Young Man & the Sea: Recipes & Crispy Fish Tales from Esca]


* Don't worry, the fish were on ice and in plastic bags. This guy's a pro.

** As much as we love to fire up our grill, we cheated on this step once because we were out of charcoal. We shaved the corn raw, added 1-2 tbsp of canola oil to a skillet, and sautéd it over medium-high heat for just a few minutes, barely stirring at all, until the bottom layer of kernels began to caramelize. We missed out on that wonderful smoky flavor you get when you grill corn on a barbecue, but the recipe still turned out great.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Maybe, just maybe

toast & jam fig. a: toast & jam

To paraphrase: "God save strawberry jam in all its different varieties!" Yes, but maybe, just maybe autumn strawberries are the key. At least, here in Quebec.

Michelle's been on a quasi-Proustian quest for the strawberry jam of her youth for years, desperately trying to replicate the texture and flavor of a strawberry jam made by one Mrs. Wright in Guelph, ON, back when Michelle was just a wee lass. Countless experiments with summer strawberries have produced fine strawberry jam--excellent strawberry jams, even--but never one that has fully approximated those mythical strawberry jams of her past. Then Michelle started making her strawberry jam with local fraises d'automne, and the results were dramatically different--brighter, with an absolutely perfect set. And Michelle's expression changed accordingly. It, too, was brighter.

Strawberry Jam Enthusiasts, you may want to give autumn strawberries a whirl, if you haven't already. But remember to go easy on the sugar and to cook your strawberries gently. And, remember, the autumn strawberry season is just about up--they'll only last until the first frost--so you'll have to act fast!

Thoughts on strawberries and jam, fellow Enthusiasts? Do tell.


Monday, September 06, 2010

NYC 72-hour Plan, pt. 3

greetings from the mighty Atlantic fig. a: Jacob Riis beach

Fort Tilden + Coney Island + Totonno’s + Franny’s

All the way down at the end of Flatbush Avenue, on a spit of land that also includes Rockaway Beach, you'll find Jacob Riis Park and, further west, Fort Tilden. Rockaway Beach you already know about (or, rather, I should say, "Rockaway Beach" you already know about). Jacob Riis Park has a big parking lot, a lovably ramshackle 18-hole golf course, a boardwalk, and some crazy, derelict architecture that reminded us more of Ostend and the North Sea than of any other beach we'd seen in North America. Fort Tilden's beaches are a bit of a walk, but things get more overgrown, a little wilder, even a little haunted, the lifeguards and the raked sand disappear, and the crowds thin out. It's a great place to commune with the mighty Atlantic, take in some sun, splash around in the waves, and share a Middle Eastern picnic from Sahadi's.

It's also just a few short miles from Coney Island.

this is the original fig. b: the original 1

Which means that when you're done splashing, it's a jump, skip, walk, and a drive to get a frankfurter or an order of clams...

totonno's fig. c: the original 2

...or, better yet, pay a visit to Totonno's, one of New York's great pizza shrines ("family owned since 1924"!), and you can sample what is perhaps the quintessential coal-oven pie and an leading exemplar of the "New York-Neapolitan" style.

totonno's 2 fig. d: Totonno's cheese pie

I mean, just look at that thing. Two words: simple elegance. And a crust that's just phenomenal. Totonno's now has two locations in Manhattan, but the Neptune Ave. joint is the original and it doesn't get any more classic.

What better way to close out the day than with return visit to our friends at Franny's to have some more pizza? This was visit #4 for me, and every time has been rock-solid. These guys are just so good, in every category. Check it out:

1. utterly perfect crostini topped with fava beans, cranberry beans, and mullet bottarga
2. house-made maccheroni with smoked fontina, spicy sausage, a sauteed cabbage, that only read "okay" to me when I saw it on the menu, but which tasted like one of the top 5 (top 3?) pasta dishes I've ever had in my life--who knew?
3. three truly superb pizzas: tomato, anchovies, chilies, capers, and pecorino sardo; that legendary clam pie; and a cherry tomatoes, ricotta, and salami number
4. and if that wasn't enough, two truly outstanding desserts: a panna cotta with strawberries that someone two night earlier at Beer Table had told us had to be tasted to be believed (he was right: we've tasted and now we believe!) and a chocolate sorbetto that was a chocolate lovers' greatest summertime fantasy come true.
5. oh, yeah: and don't forget about their Negronis...

See what I mean?

coffee cake fig. e: coffee cake, Bklyn Larder

Bklyn Larder + Pulino’s + Milk Bar

We had such a good time at Franny's on Sunday night that we decided to visit their newest addition to the family, Bklyn Larder, the very next morning. Their ricotta & wilted greens sandwich, I've already told you about, but their peach coffee cake was something new to us, and it was a thing of beauty: moist, delicious, and bursting with peach flavor. In an earlier post, I mentioned a cross-section of the offerings at Bklyn Larder, but did I mention their beer selection? Well, it's excellent, and you know that Popperings Hommel ale I mentioned the other day? You can find it here (for a fraction of the price it cost at Beer Table), along with dozens of other fine brews, both European and North American.

pulino's fig. f: Pulino's, street-side

The next day we had to leave by midday. Just enough time for one last breakfast, brunch, or lunch. How about a breakfast pizza? Seriously. Nate Appleman's Pulino's opens its doors early (8:30 am) so they can start serving their breakfast pizzas. We had the idea that this might be the right way to finish yet another one of our frenzied pizza tours of New York, but by the time we got there they'd already switched over to their lunch menu. Too bad, really, because we were looking forward to that salsiccia (eggs, sausage, bacon, mozzarella, and white cheddar). Oh, well. We soldiered on, ordering a mixed greens salad with a tangy red wine vinegar & crème fraîche dressing and a smoked ricotta, cherry tomatoes, and basil pie.

Appleman has definitely taken some lumps from New York's pizzarati for his "bar pizza," with its exceedingly thin, cracker-like crust,* and for his unconventional slicing. We had to agree about the slicing. When you slice up your pie in that tic-tac-toe grid style, what are you supposed to do with that square middle slice? But, as for the pie itself, we found the crust had a surprising amount of chew and flavor, considering how thin it was, and the toppings and the outer crust were both choice. At the very least: we'd had pizzas from three different New York pizzerias in the space of 18 hours, all of them in widely divergent styles, all of them well worth a visit.

Remember to take into consideration that while Nate Appleman is in charge of the kitchen, Pulino's is very much a Keith McNally establishment, with all that entails. This means the interior design is emphatic, to say the least (check out the sheer number of liquor bottles that line the south wall). And nights at Pulino's are said to be a mob scene. Lunch on a Monday was downright mellow, by comparison, so if you're pie-curious, that might be the time to go.

One last stop: Milk Bar, to pick up some fuel for the trip.


Totonno's, 1524 Neptune Ave., Brooklyn (Coney Island), (718) 372-8606

Franny's, 295 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn (Park Slope), (718) 230-0221

Bklyn Larder, 228 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn (Park Slope), (718) 783-1250

Pulino's, 282 Bowery, New York, (212) 226-1966


p.s.--TY, HR!

* Some have said matzo-like. Either they're being mean or they've got a line on some exceedingly good matzo, the likes of which we've never tasted.

Friday, September 03, 2010

NYC 72-hour Plan, pt. 2

bklyn flea fig. a: Brooklyn Soda Works soda at work

Brooklyn Flea + Saltie + Fette Sau

We've written about the pleasures of Brooklyn Flea, culinary and otherwise, before, but we were even more impressed this time around. All of our old friends were there, but there seemed to be more of everything, and virtually everything looked really good, from the lobster rolls to the smoked brisket sandwich. We were in the mood for a breakfast burrito or some breakfast tacos, but, instead, we got taken in by a big, beautiful breakfast huarache with all the trimmings.

We also got taken in by Brooklyn Soda Works' lime, cilantro, mint, and chile (reputedly inspired by the legendary Sripraphai in Queens). Now that's a soda that'll get up and talk to you.

saltie 1 fig. b: inside Saltie

A couple of hours later, we made our way to Williamsburg so that I could take Michelle to Saltie for the very first time. I'd fallen head-over-heels in love with Saltie on my first visit, and I was pretty sure that Michelle would be smitten too. She was. Totally. From the cantaloupe cooler right down to the Scuttlebutt. Plus, it just looks and feels right.

fette sau fig. c: inside Fette Sau

We hadn't really intended to turn lunch into a doubleheader, but we passed Fette Sau on our way to Saltie, and we found that bbq smoke ever so enticing. You know those cartoons where a delectable aroma wafts its way over to an unsuspecting soul, twists and winds its way into the poor sap's nostrils, and then literally reels him in? Well, it wasn't quite that bad, but I find it hard to say 'no' to real hardwood smoke (in this case, a blend of red & white oak, maple, beech, and cherry).

We'd already eaten, so we just ordered ourselves a tasty little sampler: some brisket, some ribs, and a side of coleslaw. The brisket was the best I'd had since Hill Country--never mind that it was the only brisket I'd had since Hill Country, it was succulent, smoky, and satisfying, and it tasted great sandwiched in those Martin's Potato Rolls. The St. Louis-style pork ribs were meaty and smoky and prepared just the way we like them, "dry." The coleslaw was surprisingly unconventional--almost hippyish--but all the better for it. Authenticity ain't the mother of invention.

bushwick styles fig. d: inside Bushwick



Imagine getting invited to a wedding in Bushwick. Imagine the wedding is a mere 1/2 block from Roberta's. Imagine the wedding is kind of a late-afternoon/early-evening affair and it lets out relatively early. Roberta's is open till midnight. Use your imagination.

Brooklyn Flea, two locations: Saturdays in Fort Greene (outdoors), Sundays in Downtown Brooklyn (indoors)

Saltie, 378 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn (Williamsburg), (718) 387-4777

Fette Sau, 354 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn (Williamsburg), (718) 963-3404

Roberta's, 261 Moore St., Brooklyn (Bushwick), (718) 417-1118


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

NYC 72-hour Plan, pt. 1, rev. ed.

Any excuse is a good excuse to slip down to New York City, but a wedding’s a pretty great one. Especially when you’re really, really excited about the couple that’s getting married (!), you’re going to get a chance to hang out with old friends, and the weather is slated to be perfection. And if the wedding’s in Bushwick and Roberta’s is literally half a block away, well, all the better!

figs. a & b: The High Line, before and after

The High Line

The High Line was already a thing of beauty. Now, fully redeveloped, fully landscaped by our good friend Piet Oudolf,* and pedestrian-friendly, it's just a different kind of thing of beauty.

standard, high line fig. c: The Standard, as seen from The High Line

It's a great place to take some sun, do some people-watching, get some amazing views of the city and the river, check out some of the city's most daring new architecture, even take in an art installation.

an-ti-ci-pa-tion fig. d: an-ti-ci-pa-a-tion

It's also a great place to grab a popsicle or a shave ice, now that People's Pops are on the scene. We didn't realize it at the time, but it turns it out it was People's Pops' Day 2 on the High Line. What we did realize, instantly, is that we're definitely some People's Pops people.

people's pops people fig. e: People's Pops people

We loved their bright, beautiful, refreshing watermelon shave ice. We were totally ecstatic about their golden plum & mint pop. They were reasonably priced too. Power to the people!

milk! fig. f: outside Momofuku Ssäm Bar + Milk Bar

Momofuku Ssäm Bar + Milk Bar + Beer Table

They said it couldn't be done, but we showed up for our glorious return to Momofuku Ssäm Bar at 8:05 pm on a Friday night--a beautiful Friday night--and we got seated in under 3 minutes! A party of four, too. We were fully prepared to wait a good 60-90 minutes, too. It was almost too easy.

And, god, was it good.

Vermont quail with sticky rice, shiitake mushrooms, and mustard greens sounded awesome--little did we know that that plump, beautiful roasted quail would come stuffed with the sticky rice and mushrooms and that it would be the quail of our dreams.

But the dish that blew our minds was one that sounded vaguely mysterious. When Michelle saw the buttermilk dish under the list of seasonal specialties she knew she had to have it. I asked her why and she told me she was convinced that the buttermilk would be served lightly set, like silken tofu, and she just had a feeling that it was going to transcend. Transcend, it did. What arrived was lightly set buttermilk (!) surrounded by a Fuji apple dashi, with toasted pine nuts and a mixed-herb salad as a garnish, and the combination was otherworldly.

Everything we had was stellar--including the simple pleasures of our Kentucky country ham plate--but that quail plate and that buttermilk bowl were the work of a team that's at the top of its game.

Afterwards we paid the mandatory visit to Ssäm Bar's little sister, Milk Bar. 1 Cereal Milk soft serve and a few cookies later, we were ready to roll. Literally.

beer table fig. g: the menu at Beer Table

We had our car with us, and this being a Bushwick wedding, we were staying with friends in Brooklyn. So after dinner, we made our way across the bridge and had a drink at Beer Table. What exactly is Beer Table? Well, have you ever been to an intimate little wine bar? One that has a good kitchen? How about one that has a good kitchen that serves 3-course meals for $25? Well, get rid of the wines** and replace them with a well-curated selection of beers--bottled, draft, and casked, European and North American.

I'm not sure I want to pay wine bar prices for my beer (at least not regularly)--I lean towards the model of countries like Germany, Belgium, and the Czech Republic, where drinking the finest beers is a popular pastime--but the selection was definitely highly impressive. Just look at that menu. Just look at those write-ups. And I loved the honey notes of my Popperings Hommel ale.

People's Pops, various locations, including The High Line

Momofuku Ssäm Bar + Milk Bar, 207 2nd Avenue, New York, (212) 254-3500

Beer Table, 427B 7th Avenue, Brooklyn (Park Slope), (718) 965-1196


p.s. Many thanks to L & T for the occasion and the inspiration.

* We wish.

** Yes, you can go ahead and drink them.